Why We Came:
Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar is preparing a fresh menu with new cocktails for the summer. The D.C. location is one of four in the U.S. and has been in city since 2010, combining Cuban dishes with a flare of Spanish, Creole, African, and Asian flavors.
Who's in Charge:
Cube Libra is an affiliate of GuestCounts Hospitality, which operates a wide range of restaurants from Orlando to D.C. In the kitchen, award-winning chef Guillermo Pernot and executive chef Matt Zagorski bring diners the tastes that reflect Cuba culinary style with a modern twist. Chef Pernot is well known for travelling to Cuba and updates his menu to reflect the current trends in Cuban culinary cooking.
The Look: Upon entering, the restaurant’s unique interior greets you with an tropical ambiance as you notice balconies, arched entranceways, ornamental salvaged doors, 20-foot-tall ceilings complimented and an assortment of exotic plants and palm trees.
The Vibe: Cuba Libre gets very busy during Happy Hour but the hostess and servers do everything they can get you taken care of. A majority of the patrons are local enjoying signature cocktails. During tourist season, the restaurant is also a popular place to escape the outdoor elements and enjoy a novel interior. There won’t be much room at the bar and you may be left standing if you don’t arrive early enough.
The Peeps: Cuba Libre is in D.C.’s Chinatown and a wide array of diners can be found from business to casual. With a popular happy hour and fantastic cocktails, tends to draw a large crowd even on a Monday. On select nights, Cuba Libre clears a portion of the dining area to make room for people to dance to salsa, meringue, and bachata music.
Service: Service is attentive even with a large crowd that can gather for happy hour and dinner. It is a sight to see how Cuba Libre servers are on their top game ensuring as much as they can that diners receive their best experience. If you ask the servers questions about the specific particulars of a dish they may not have the answer but they will be sure to return to you with an answer.
What to Drink: Cuba Libre has an impressive rum menu with over 95 premium and flavored varieties. The novelty, though, of Cuba Libre is that they create their own brand of rum using fresh ingredients. To really experience the Cuba Libre Cuban experience it is recommended to try their mojitos. They have an array from original to fruit flavored mojitos using fresh fruit. If a mojito isn’t your drink, then perhaps try a simple rum and Coke. At Cuba Libre, guests can enjoy three variations of a classic cocktail that include the original, cherry and coconut.
What to Eat: The summer menu showcases a wide variety of dishes that included breaded, fried and pasta dishes. To start, a wide array of appetizers were sampled for everyone to try. The first being a very simple appetizer, the Canapé a chipotle-chicken thigh that was extremely tender and moist that was accented with the cool flavors of watermelon and the spicy flavors of a North African harissa paste. Cuba Libre also features a variety of soups and there most popular soup is the seafood soup that consists of shrimp and crab meat with a coconut milk base. Black bean soup with a sour cream emulsion is also featured which can be found to be a bit too salty. A novel soup they added on their menu is the plantain soup. The plantain soup may catch you off guard because of its sweet taste but if you love sweet plantains then you will love this soup.
The Bruschettas De Tostones wasn’t anything novel, but a good appetizer to compliment any meal. Cuba Libre does a great job with their ceviche, featuring fresh raw fish cured with fresh lemons and lime with chili for spice. The Cuba Libre fritters provided a stronger texture versus the earlier smoother textured appetizers. The fritters are a bit saltier compared to the softer flavored appetizers. Everyone who tried the ravioli became a believer.
Cuba Libre first entrée was a Ropa Vieja ravioli with chorizo and fresh clams. At first this may sound like an odd pairing of a pork ravioli with clams, and chef Pernot would agree. However, he promises that if you try the unique combination you also would become a believer. Everyone who tried the ravioli became a believer. The next entrée that was skirt steak and the steak was moist and tender but the amazing texture and flavor of the ravioli still lingered and was hard to forget.
The desserts at Cuba Libra met expectations but did not exceed them by any means. The Key lime tart had a fantastic meringue and pistachio curst but seemed to lack filling. The Banana Bread Caramelo only had a hint of banana. The tres leches was a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three milks and topped with Mocha mousse. The sponge cake was fantastically flavored but the Mocha mousse lacked in the chocolate flavor that you might expect.
What's the Score: Cuba Libre offers diners a culinary passport to Cuba’s intriguing flavors and culture. With a wide range of rums, it is recommended to go with the Cuba Libre home brand and enjoy fresh fruit flavored mojitos. For novelty and unique dining experience start off with some appetizers such as the Canapé, sweet plantain soup or any of the ceviches. For an entrée, it may be out of place being a pasta dish at a Cuban restaurant but the Ropa Vieja raviloi will make you a believer that pork and clams go together. To finish everything off, for dessert get the tres leches. If you have enough energy, grab another signature mojito and stick around for the dancing to start.